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For the record, my chain looks a lot filthier. I hate cleaning bikes beyond anything. I don't clean my training bike very often, because it's only got cheap compenents and I do not care much if they don't last very long.

All that filth has to come from someplace so I was wondering if someone could specifically suggest from where, how and from what direction all that filth emigrates onto my chain and why it chooses to stay there. And then maybe I, or anybody else, can come up with a genius idea of how to stop the filth from making it's way onto my chain in the first place so nobody will ever have to clean it again.

Something like this maybe. You get the idea.

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  • 13
    It gets "filthy" from riding the bike. The way to avoid it is to take the bus. Or you could do like millions of cyclists do (if you have a derailleur-style bike) and use a "chain washer" occasionally. This device cleans the chain quite well, with minimal effort and mess. And then apply a chain lube, of a type chosen for your riding conditions, not plain old motor oil. Dec 16, 2016 at 12:46
  • 4
    Belt drive would be one solution if you hate cleaning your chain.
    – Tom77
    Dec 16, 2016 at 19:32
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    I just use a wax-based lube (White Lightning "Clean Ride", but there are others) on my commute bike. The chain still gets dirty, but the wax flakes off over time, taking the dirt with it. I never clean the chain, just scrape the wax off the derailleur gears once a year. The chain will still get your hands (or clothes) a little dirty if you touch it, but it's more of a greyish smudge than the deep black greasy stain that conventional lubes can cause.
    – Johnny
    Dec 16, 2016 at 20:13
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    @AzulShiva - that's basically it. If you ride the bike, its going to get dirty. Chain cases and oil baths reduce this, but they're hard to implement on a derailleur bicycle. Belt drive has its own set of problems you're trading off though.
    – Batman
    Dec 16, 2016 at 22:56
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    @AzulShiva Why talk down the whole community in two separate comments? You're part of it! It's a community - sometimes people make throw away comments, sometime witty comments, sometimes brilliant. And sometimes the answer you seek does not exist. If you are addressing one person then use the @ key and their handle. But better to ignore unhelpful comments.
    – andy256
    Dec 22, 2016 at 7:29

7 Answers 7


The "filth" is a composite material. It is a mixture of chain lube, road grit, and the metal filings from gear and chain wear. The road grit is composed of sand, tire bits, asphalt, trash, etc. The issue is when you mix them all together it forms a thick, pasty sticky mess.. The goop tends to collect more material. The grit in the sticky residue acts like sandpaper accelerating wear. You can minimize but not eliminate it by using the correct lube. This generally means a dry type lube when the conditions are dry and a wet lube when the conditions are wet.

  • Thanks for that. However we need more information on the direction of impact. Is the front tire responsible for lifting all the dirt off the ground or something else?
    – AzulShiva
    Dec 16, 2016 at 11:45
  • @mikes: And it can be minimized further if the outside of the chain is kept as free from grease as possible such as by wiping the excess of lube off after lubing the chain. (In the case of a bike with a front derailleur however a minimum of lube needs to be retained to avoid friction with the plates of said FD.)
    – Carel
    Dec 16, 2016 at 12:55
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    Mostly kicked up from the front tyre, however not exclusively, and it can't be completely avoided. Even a bike that spends it's life sitting on an indoor trainer begins to exhibit chain black chain gunk eventually.
    – Andy P
    Dec 16, 2016 at 13:17
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    @AzulShiva Front wheel rises dust and thows mud and water in the chain. Rear wheel can drop another dust and mud to the cain as well. If you ride through high grass, deep mudhole etc. the sticky chain collect the rubbish directly.
    – Crowley
    Dec 16, 2016 at 18:13

Bicycle chains accumulate gunk which tends to be composed of dirt from the environment (dirt kicked up from the front wheel as well as abraded rim material if you have rim brakes) and abraded material from the chain and the cogs/chainrings, all held in colloidal suspension with the lubricant grease from the chain.


  1. Fully-encased chain guard will reduce the environmental source of gunk but you'd still get thick/black grease from the wear and tear on the chain itself. Furthermore, chain guards make maintenance and cleaning more difficult. On the positive side, you don't worry about what you can't see.

    • Bicycles with oil bath chaincases used to exist, that would drag the chain through oil—much like a wet sump on cars. This would cause constant lubrication, decreasing wear. However, I imagine that they would leak like crazy and that the oil—much like auto oil—would be black, dirty, and messy. The system would also be heavy. For these and many other reasons, they haven't been produced in almost 80 years.

      Oil Bath chaincase

  2. A full front fender with mud-guard will help reduce the amount of debris kicked up from the front wheel onto the chain. Added bonus, it'll keep your toes cleaner/drier in the rain as well.

  3. Single-speeds use thicker chains and because they don't have to cross-chain, there's less lateral wear on the chains from chain/cog abrasion. Less wear, less gunk. Since most chaincases/chainguards aren't derailleur compatible, you'd want to look into the next solution as an alternative.

  4. Internal-gear-hub has the advantage of single-speeds with the advantage of changing gears. If you want to remain with chain technology, a single speed or IGH with fully enclosed chain is the winner.

  5. Leaving chain technology behind, your the next best is a belt drive. Belt drive bikes will give off a black powder residue (which is essentially worn belt) but don't collect gunk as they don't use lubricants.

  6. Much rarer in the United States are shaft drive bicycles. Because these use a fully-enclosed drive mechanism (which still needs lubricating, by the way), there's no chain gunk.



In reality, people are in either: Camp A) ignore the chain gunk and rarely clean their chains; or Camp B) get obsessive about cleaning their chains and get all sorts of accoutrements to do so. Since you seem to not enjoy cleaning your chain, I'd just stick with Camp A, ignore the chain, and just replace your chain and cogs when time comes. Getting a chain guard means you won't have to look at your chain and won't worry.

  • Camp A for the training bike and Camp B for the racing bike it is then. I will still try and apply a fender going all the way down at the front wheel. When the chain gunk gets really bad it negatively affects shifting so cleaning it sporadically is inevitable.
    – AzulShiva
    Dec 23, 2016 at 17:34
  • Even with a full fender + fender flap (mud guard), if you look at the angles from the front wheel to the chain, it'll be hard to avoid some kick up. But it'll help. I'll put that in the answer as well. Thanks. And if you like the answer, be sure to "accept" it. :-)
    – RoboKaren
    Dec 23, 2016 at 19:05
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    According to Jan Heine, Honjo fenders worked well enough that he didn't need a rain bike. They were designed so that water exits at the bottom and not drip to the drivetrain, and the flap was within 5cm from the ground so the drivetrain doesn't get sprayed by the front wheel. janheine.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/…
    – Brian
    Jul 15, 2018 at 5:46
  • At the time of viewing the question, I count two answers that directly address the original question. I've upvoted both this answer and @mikes for doing so. This answer also correctly gives alternatives to traditional chain drives. I don't necessarily agree with the contention that people are either obsessive or neglectful of their chains, but that's just me being highly pedantic.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Mar 30, 2020 at 18:01
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    Possibly worth clarifying: I think belt drives won't work with derailleurs, so a belt drive bike should need an IGH, or a gearbox, or it will be single speed. Is that right? Also, I am pretty sure belts are very durable compared to chains.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jan 19, 2021 at 11:00

I've had excellent results from cooking a chain in paraffin wax. Its an involved process but doesn't need to be repeated for a long time. I bought a 5 kg block of paraffin wax for $35 NZ, and have used about 20% of it so far. The wax recycles many times.

  1. Remove chain from bike, and clean and degrease thoroughly. Same for brand new chain.
  2. Cook it in molten paraffin wax. I use an old electric frypan where the non-stick coating was failing. I leave the congealed wax in the pan for next time.
  3. Once the wax has liquified, leave chain completely submerged till the bubbles stop. Wiggle chain to get liquid wax into the rollers.
  4. Turn off cooker and let it cool down some.
  5. When the wax is solid on top but molten underneath still, lift the chain out, and wipe down the outside.
    The point of this is to keep wax in the rollers.
  6. Hang chain up to cool, and then refit as normal.

While the chain is cooking, you should clean your cassette, chainrings, jockey wheels and anything else chain-related like front and rear mechs.

Notice the chain will drop flakes of wax from the outside, which need to be swept up because they're slippery.

UPSHOT - a silvery chain that moves well, slides well, and flexes well. Downside, its a little noisier, but not significantly so.

BIG UPSHOT - you can touch and handle the chain without getting oily.

  • 1
    Don't know who downvoted, meh - whilst it skips over the first part of the question it answers the important second part in a very solutions-focused manner (is that a thing? feel like I made it up). but also, the "20% of it so far" could be qualified by a timescale, weeks, years?
    – Swifty
    Mar 30, 2020 at 15:10
  • 1
    Can you comment how thoroughly one has to degrease the chain? The Molten Speed Wax and Friction Facts sites make it sound like you need petroleum-based solvents to get the chain clean enough (e.g. methylated spirits), followed by alcohol to dissolve the leftover petroleum film after that. I wonder if consumers can get sufficient results just using citrus-based degreasers (e.g. Simple Green or many bike-specific degreasers), or even dish soap.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Mar 30, 2020 at 17:56
  • @WeiwenNg For a brand new chain, I was lazy and just put them straight in the wax bath. The manufacturing protectant seems to be a wax, which was compatible. If its an old chain with oil on it, then a serious clean with degreaser, or solvent would be required. In that case the old oil has to come off completely.
    – Criggie
    Mar 30, 2020 at 22:06
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    @swifty well I cooked up 4 chains in 1 kg of wax, and almost all of that is still in the pot ready for next time. I'm aiming to re-wax twice a year, so this block should last me decades. Also, Mikes' answer covers nicely the cause and composition of the filthy mess, there's nothing to add to that good answer.
    – Criggie
    Mar 30, 2020 at 22:07
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    I use hot wax on all chains and they stay pretty clean. I can literally grab my chain with my hand and my hand stays clean (mostly single-speed road bikes FWIW). To clean chains from the factory I put them in a Ziplock quart-size freezer bag with perchloroethylene or acetone, or both in that order, and shake them. Previously I had a metal paint can of perchloroethylene that I used. Once the chain is totally clean and dry I do hot wax and never mess with it again until it breaks. Apr 3, 2020 at 19:42

It is strange rubber material from tyres was not mentioned as an important source of the gunk. Not just from your bike, from all those other users of the roads who have much bigger tyres and wear them much more. Also add materials from brake pads (no matter if rubber rim brakes or disc brakes on bikes and cars). This material comes from your bike but also from the road surface from all those other road users.

You often find this material making dirty blackish layer also on other parts of bikes like the non-braking surfaces of rims.

Depending on your lube you might also get bigger things like clay or even sand particles sticking to the chain. Especially with excessive amounts of wet lube. Remember to always clean all the excess lube with a rag. You only want the lube inside, not outside the chain.


A simple solution would be to make the cleaning process a lot easier by getting a cheap ultrasonic cleaner. You would just have to drop your parts (e.g cassette, chain) inside and let it work for a few minutes. Then rinse and lube your parts. Everything would be cleaner than after an hour of work. It's still cleaning, but a lot less tedious, and without extra work and weight on your bike.

  • 1
    You trade off cleaning time for stripping down time that way. For me it wouldn't be worth it (and I have ultrasonically cleaned bike bits before). You'd need to pick a suitable solvent/degreaser as well, and you'd need to be extra careful about re-lubricating everything.
    – Chris H
    Jan 11, 2017 at 15:32
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    Actually, for the chain, just shaking it in an old water bottle or used Gatorade or other drink bottle with solvent, and repeating that several times with fresh solvent, gets you most of the way to an ultrasonic cleaning. For the cassette, brush and degreaser does suffice. Naturally, get one if you want one, but I think it is not necessary.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jan 19, 2021 at 16:43

I don't believe other answers have offered this take, so here goes. You could reduce the dirt buildup as follows:

  1. After every ride, wipe the outside of the chain with a rag. This reduces the amount of dirt on the chain, so that there's less of it to get inside the rollers.
  2. Consider switching to a lubricant that doesn't get as dirty. When Silca released their Synergetic lubricant, they said that the base oil was high quality and (as I recall) didn't contaminate as heavily as heavier oils. I can't judge this for myself, but I have heard good feedback. NFS lube has also got good reviews from people I trust.
  3. When you lubricate your chain, pedal a few times, then wipe off excess lube with a clean rag. Excess lube will attract dirt.
  4. Clean your drivetrain as much as you can tolerate. Get an on-bike chain cleaner for convenience. You don't need to fill it up with degreaser every run, and dilute degreaser will be fine (or use Dawn dish soap). Even if you do this once or twice a year, it will help things by getting dirt out from inside the chain.
  5. If you have the money, you might consider asking your bike store how much they'd charge to clean the chain. This can partly replace #4.

I think that these small steps are probably more practical than switching to paraffin wax or getting an ultrasonic cleaner - I do the former and I had the latter, but if you actually hate cleaning your bike, then getting your chain and cassette off and setting up your cleaner is probably not going to appeal to you. Frankly, this is not optimal but also completely understandable, as life is complex and bikes are also complex, and you have to do what you are able to do in the context of your other responsibilities.


I know this is an old post, but I will link my answer to a similar one here in case someone stumbles into this question looking for an answer:


That is the 10 minute process I use to clean my full drivetrain without removing the wheel. I came up with it because I was riding enough miles that I was cleaning my drivetrain every week and wanted to balance efficiency and thoroughness. Hopefully it helps someone new to the sport and/or wanting to better maintain their bike.

I think the reality is unless you use a bike with a belt or shaft drive, you will have to maintain your drivetrain. You can try dry lubes, but I have found that even expensive dry lubes are no match for a single splash from a puddle and even in dry conditions result in a noisier drivetrain for me. Also, I think while some people like waxing the chain, I think it introduces far too many contaminants as the wax flakes off of the chain.

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